Rhythm, Footwork, and Leadership—Three Essentials for the Marriage Dance

By Ryan C. MacPherson

July 2011

 

Ballroom dancing has three essential rules:

1. The man and woman must both stay on beat.

2. The woman’s footwork must complement, not duplicate, the man’s footwork.

3. The man must lead and the woman must follow.

The same three rules govern every kind of dance—from waltz to foxtrot, from tango to salsa. The same principles also define God’s blessed institution of marriage. Whether in marriage or in dancing, the rules are not arbitrary or oppressive; rather, they define the boundaries in which a couple may safely flourish.

 

1. The man and woman must both stay on beat.

In ballroom dancing, the beat must govern both the man’s footwork and the woman’s. If the two dancers fail to keep their steps in sync with each other, then the man and woman eventually will crash into each other, or else drift apart. Either way, the dance is over.

Although a man and woman might manage briefly to step in synch with one another even without also being on beat with the music, this cannot last for long. The only right way to dance, the only lasting approach, is to follow the first rule: the man and woman must both stay on beat.

Whether the beat seems fast or slow, whether it comes in 3/4 or 4/4 time, the man and woman must both stay on beat. The beat is never wrong.

Marriage, too, has a rhythm, and God establishes the beat.

God reveals through the human conscience the difference between marital fidelity and infidelity. In Holy Scripture God defines the beat even more precisely. There He calls upon men and women to honor Him with their entire lives and to love each other just as Christ has loved them. Anger, discord, and contempt have no place on the divine dance floor.

When a husband gets off beat with God, his wife will suffer; when a wife fails to stay on beat, her husband will feel the repercussions. For marriage to thrive, both must stay on beat.

Healthy cycles of repentance and forgiveness within marriage provide couples with opportunities to bring their feet to a complete standstill, listen to God’s cue, and then start fresh in the joy of God’s love.

Of course, in this fallen world men and women cannot stay on beat perfectly within their marriages. However, just as beginning dancers learn to get back on beat when they start to drift off, so also a married couple can mature in their relationship with one another, and with the Lord, by checking themselves regularly against the rhythm of God’s Word.

Healthy cycles of repentance and forgiveness within marriage provide couples with opportunities to bring their feet to a complete standstill, listen to God’s cue, and then start fresh in the joy of God’s love.

 

2. The woman’s footwork must complement, not duplicate, the man’s footwork.

When a man steps forward on the dance floor with his left foot, his partner, who is facing him, must bring her right foot backward. If he shuffles to the right, she moves to the left. They stay together precisely by being different. They dance the same dance precisely by making opposite moves. Their roles are distinct and complementary, not identical or interchangeable.

A woman does not become a better dancer by learning the same footwork as a man. She becomes better by learning to complement, or mirror, his footwork. Similarly, a man does not become a better dancer by departing from his own footwork and joining a woman in hers; he becomes a better dancer by learning to continue in his own footwork while she steps with the opposite foot to mirror his moves. Especially when dancing becomes most amazing—when the woman twirls and spins and then returns to her partner precisely on beat with the music—the man must concentrate to keep his own footwork steadily within his assigned place on the dance floor.

It would be silly to inquire about whose footwork is more important. The man and the woman are equally essential to the dance. [Their] complementary movements make the dance possible in the first place.

It would be silly to inquire about whose footwork is more important. The man and the woman are equally essential to the dance. Being different does not divide them for competition; difference unites them in cooperation. Their complementary movements do not merely make the dance beautiful; those complementary movements make the dance possible in the first place.

Marriage is no different. It must be the union of one man and one woman, and this union is possible only because the two people are fundamentally different. True, marriage also is a union of two equals, even as the Holy Trinity is a Unity of three equal Persons in the Godhead. But being equal does not mean being the same. Just as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct in person and yet equal in divine majesty, so also a husband and wife are distinct in calling while remaining equal in their humanity.

A marriage of two husbands (or of a man and a woman both pursuing a husband’s vocation) will not work; neither will a marriage of two wives. Just as two dancers start to step on each other’s toes when they fail to respect their proper footwork, so also a married couple encounters friction when a husband and wife confuse their proper vocations. “Male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). It really is that simple.

 

3. The man must lead and the woman must follow.

Every ballroom dancing routine begins with the basic step, such as the box step for the waltz. Flourishes can be added later, but the basic step establishes the enduring framework. For those flourishes to work smoothly and safely, the man must lead and the woman must follow.

The man leads the woman in the basic step and also in its modifications. In the waltz, for example, he raises her hand as he steps backward with his right foot to signal that she should modify her basic step into a spin. She completes a 360-degree rotation just as he returns to the starting position and then they continue as they were before.

A man’s leadership cannot be arbitrary. He should never lead a woman apart from the beat. He cannot spin her whenever he wants, in whatever direction he wants, but must do so according to the steps of the dance. Within that rhythm, however, he has flexibility. He may choose to spin her or else to lead her in the standard, basic step. He also may rotate the “box” in which they both step by leading his foot at an angle from where the side of the box otherwise would go. He thereby guides her around the dance floor.

A woman’s following does not involve co-leadership, but submission. So long as the man stays on beat, the woman should stay on beat and follow his lead across the dance floor. This is particularly important in faster dance moves, for by submitting to his lead she allows him to protect her. They could trip over each other, crash into each other, collide with other dancers, or get spun out of control. But if he leads and she follows and both remain on beat with complementary footwork, all of those problems are avoided.

A woman who submits to her partner on the dance floor does not become demeaned or endangered; to the contrary, she is protected and adorned. God intends for marriage to work the same way.

Biblical headship and submission accomplish in marriage what leading and following make possible on the dance floor. For a wife to submit to her husband means that she entrusts herself to his care. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (Colossians 3:18). For a man to be the loving head of his wife means that he supplies her needs (1 Timothy 5:8) and protects her from harm: “Husbands, likewise, dwell with [your wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7).

A woman who submits to her partner on the dance floor does not become demeaned or endangered; to the contrary, she is protected and adorned. God intends for marriage to work the same way. A man who stays on beat with God and leads his wife in love protects her from Satan’s attacks and adorns her beyond anything she could seek for herself, just as Sarah discovered lasting beauty by submitting to Abraham (1 Peter 3:5–6).

 

Heavenly Choreography

Dancing paints a picture for marriage: staying on beat with God’s Word, stepping with complementary footwork in the vocations of husband and wife, always with the woman following the man’s lead. Marriage, in turn, paints a picture of divine redemption. In the heavenly wedding between Christ and His church, Christ Himself rescues His bride from eternal destruction and adorns her in righteous purity forever (Ephesians 5:27; Revelation 19:7–8). He leads, provides, and protects; she submits, follows, and with Him finds herself complete.

 

Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of The Hausvater Project. He and his wife Marie recently enriched their marriage through a series of ballroom dancing classes.

 

Suggested citation: MacPherson, Ryan C. “Rhythm, Footwork, and Leadership—Three Essentials for the Marriage Dance.” The Hausvater Project, July 2011. www.hausvater.org